How to approach suffering in the world one step at a time

Dec 7, 2023

Problems in the world can be overwhelming – you just open your eyes, everywhere you turn, they’re there. And now because we’ve got iPads and computers and phones, we’re seeing it all simultaneously. 

When you see a problem, if you don’t know the cause of the problem, you’ll panic, won’t you? If you don’t know the cause, then you can never find the solution. Let’s say you go into a war zone and you walk into the tent where the doctors are and you want to help, but you don’t know anything – you don’t know how to interpret all the broken legs and the blood coming and the screaming and the crying. You’ll despair.

But if you can identify the problem and know the causes, now you know how to fix it, no matter how many people are crying and yelling with their legs broken. You’ll help one person at a time, and this gives you courage.
So, here, we’re talking about the problems of the world. Using the Buddhist view, we need to know the reason there is suffering. If we don’t know the reason there is suffering, then of course we’ll panic.

We’ve got the view of karma; that has to be the first thing. We have to first look at it and go, “What’s the name of this problem?” And then we think, “What’s the cause of it?” And then we apply the teachings about suffering, its causes, and so forth. We need to learn all this if we want to use the Buddhist approach.

But not knowing the causes, we rush and think, “What can I do to help?” We don’t know why it’s happening, and we panic and get angry. It all becomes too much, and then we get guilty and hopeless.

So, the way to look at the world is you look at the war, you look at the injustice, you look at the criminality, you look at the corruption, and then you just tick the boxes – and you can list each one, and by understanding the law of karma you understand clearly what the causes are. “Now I understand why it’s there.”

And then the next question: you go to the compassion wing, and you say, “How can I help?” If there is something you can do, you will do it. But we know so often there’s very little we can do. What then? We don’t give up. We just keep moving. “I’ll just keep doing my practice, keep getting wisdom, keep getting compassion, and I won’t give up.” There’s no other choice. That’s the answer.

Also, you can help right where you are: the ant, the person, the dog. You can do what you can. This itself gives courage, rather than just burying our heads in misery and giving up.

And, of course, if it’s too difficult being in that tent with all the broken legs, you don’t go there. You try and protect your mind. You know it’s all happening, but if you can’t handle it, you don’t expose yourself to it. 

Another thing is, don’t get angry, because that exhausts us. When we’re on and on and on about the problems, it’s really just anger; then it’s no wonder we despair. Anger is meaningless. 

You see, this is the big point: we don’t see the difference between finding fault and being angry. So, “Yes, there is injustice,” you say to yourself. “Yes, look at the criminality.” But then what happens is it immediately becomes anger. Anger is, “How dare they do this? Look at these criminals. Look at the suffering they’re causing.” And that’s when you go crazy.

We have to distinguish between finding fault and being angry. Speak the facts: there is a war in Ukraine; there is criminality; people do lie. This is so powerful. You’ve got to look it in the eye and see that’s what it is. And then you know why it’s happening because you understand karma. And then, before you even get to compassion – this is what I like to try to do – you then go, “Thank you for showing me how not to be.” You learn from it; you take it as a lesson.

And then comes compassion. As Martin Luther King said, “It’s good to find fault. It’s good to say, ‘Look at the injustice. Look at the poverty. Look at the racism,’ but then you say, ‘What can I do to help?’” That’s compassion, and if there’s not much you can do, then, as I said, you just keep moving.

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